Thursday, March 31, 2005

And Now For the Aftermath

I told myself that I would pass on the commentary tonight, but I've got the itch and I need to scratch. The obvious question is, "What happens now?" It is a sad fact that policies aren't formed until after a real, as opposed to a hypothetical, case occurs to show just how inadequate the situation is. Now is the time for laws to be passed so that people can chart their way through this issue in case, God forbid, this should happen to them.

As a staunch federalist, I believe this should be handled on a state-by-state basis. Take note all of you liberals who had found a new appreciation for federalism and state's rights: try to solve this on the national level and you will lose the moral highground (definitely for lack of a better term) conservatives handed you. The numbers will be lower, but people will still not want to federal government intervening.

Conservatives, get a grip and go back to states' rights and rule of law. Given the pro-life contingent, I see the last ones as unlikely.

Rest in Peace, Terri Schindler-Schiavo

Terri Schiavo has died. There is no vindication now, nor will there ever be. Whether her death happened today or fifteen years ago, today has made that irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Revelatory Power of Words

I can entirely understand that this has to be the hardest period of Bob and Mary Schindler's lives. Perhaps it is unfair to parse what they say at this time, but I believe that what is said when most separated by reasonable faculty that holds the most truth. I refer to Mary Schindler's statement to Michael and the woman he has started a family with:

"Michael and Jodi, you have your own children. Please, please give my child back to me," she begged.

This points out the conflict of the roles that Terri Schindler-Schiavo played in people's lives: Bob and Mary's daughter and Michael's wife. Which takes precedence? By the legal system of the State of Florida, it is the relationship of husband and wife that comes first. I tend to agree to that, as it is the bond that is chosen by both parties (that Terri might not have chosen to remain married to Michael after his recent actions can not be clearly elucidated any more than her will to continue living).

I don't often go to the Bible for authority, but this quote seems applicable:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:24

Applying a bit of gender neutrality (and not using the justification of the whole rib thing), this would hold for woman as well as man. Terri chose to be with Michael, and he is acting out, supposedly, her wishes expressed an adult. That Mary Schindler would speak of Terri as her child might imply that even if she knew Terri's wishes were to cease the fight to live that Mary might not accede to them.

That, however, would involve some mind reading that I am not capable of attempting.

I Tried to Hold It Back

Once I read this story about over-priced and under-priced real estate markets, I knew that I was going to be in trouble. My mother taught me that one should say nothing if one has nothing nice to say.

Much like a sneeze, however, a good line can be really uncomfortable unless let out. My apologies in advance, because I only think this is funny out of ignorance.

Who care about the home prices? You still have to live in Utah.

Thank you for your forbearance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Back to Brass Tacks


Gamer's Latest Thoughts on the Terri Schiavo Circus

Here we go again. Not really all that much new with respect to the sideshows. The Florida senate is not seeming to budge on pushing another law through, more people are getting arrested (curiously on The Christian side), and Jeb Bush is holding the line by not tossing the state or federal constitutions out the window. The damage being done by the religious right to the reputation of the Republican Party has been immense. The Anchoress has a great post about how the actions of the hard-core christians are playing their roles perfectly according to the Liberal script. I heard it said somewhere that Randall Terry is the Conservative answer to Al Sharpton. I sometimes wonder if that is giving Reverend Al a bad rap.

On to the aforementioned brass tacks. Forget everything you hear about brain scans and videotapes, and ask yourself what is truly the legal issue here. The answer to that is who has the right to make decisions about a person's life when that person is no longer able to do so. That matter has been through the courts so many times in both the general (spouse vs. family) and the specific (Michael Schiavo vs. the Schindlers) that no one can possibly say that there has not been due process. Any questions as to what tests have or have not been done or just how aware Terri is of her surroundings are ultimately immaterial.

The way that the system was supposed to work is that Mr. Schiavo and the Schindlers would recognize their disagreement over an issue in which both have a measure of the law on their sides. That disagreement would then be taken to court, where a judge would hear the arguments and make a best possible decision as to who has the better case by law. If one side has a decent diagreement, then there is the appeals process. Ultimately, it should be the courts who decide the issue.

The analogy I use is that the Courts are the referees for when the Law meets the real world, Congress is the Rules Committee who can later alter the rules to maintain the game, and the Executive are the other referees who actually blow the whistle. Not a perfect analogy, but please try to make do. What Congress has done has been to create a special rule for one group of players against another player. That this is in response to Courts/Referees that have in the past made up rules as they went along is not relevant. Some might say that the legislation's intent was to ask for another referee to review the case, but it is obvious that this would not have happened if the first courts had made the "right" decision.

So I, as one of the fans in the stands, hereby call for a punishment for all those congresspersons who voted for that bill. The punishment shall be to run a gauntlet formed by libertarians wielding copies of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Sounds about right to me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Yet Another Thing to be Rescued From

(Start with saturday morning serial organ music, cue over earnest announcer)

The evil geniuses at Burger King, not satisfied with their fiendish Whopper plot, have launched yet another assault upon the areteries of an unsuspecting American public. Breakfast is no longer safe thanks to the Enormous Omelet Sandwich. With more calories and fat than even the Whopper, Joe Consumer does not stand a chance. Who will step forward and protect the health of the uneducated consumer?

Thank goodness! It is Nutritionist, who will save us all by stating the obvious:

"Americans do not need an Enormous Omelet Sandwich," said Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State, who noted the sandwich's contents were high in fat and salt and the meal lacked fruit and fiber. "That's too many calories."

And once again the American Consumer is saved from the evil conspiracy of Burger King and Themselves. Tune in whenever for another thrilling tale of You're Obviously Too Stupid to Take Care of Yourselves.

(Fade to black)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Few Thoughts upon Returning to My Computer

Hey, everybody. I just got home, and while I thank you for all of the hits over the weekend, I think that I should let you know that I usually head out of town to visit family and friends on the weekends. Unless something really interesting happens that has me borrowing a friend's computer for a quick blog, save the miniscule wear on your mouse and skip these digs for the weekend.

Now that I am back home, I'll let loose with some thoughts that occurred to me while I was away. Sadly, most of them are about Terri Schiavo. This case is unpleasant for all involved, except maybe for the grandstanders. Unfortunately, it is also the case where three areas of interest for me (science, philosophy, and politics) collide and form a chaotic boundary of opinions that I feel the need to map out. has another excellent compendium of links on the case and the political ramifications of recent events. It is starting to seem like my prediction of the Republican Party break-up is starting to occur. Rather than the libertarian republicans leaving, however, it seems that the social conservatives are expelling their erstwhile allies. The last few elections since 2000 have made the christian right well accustomed to holding the reins of power. All of the talk of how the social conservative constituency carried the 2004 election for Bush seems to have gone to their heads. The longer this goes on, the more clear it becomes that we are seeing another cycle of power and corruption.

More directly to Terri, it seems that she has been forgotten in all of the bruhaha. I don't necessarily mean Terri as she is now. What is left probably can not even maintain the concept of "I", as in "I am thirsty," "I am hungry," "I love you, Mom and Dad." What I do think more on is that no one outside of her family and friends really know what Terri was like before the brain damage. I find it interesting that we have not seen any pictures of Terri from before all of this. It is not like the Peterson case where every story had a picture or video of her. It is strange that Michael has not done this, and not in the least strange that her parents have not. Showing those pictures would drive home the point of how much she has lost of herself. Pictures from before, compared to how she is now, would create a lot of empathy in people to make them say, "I can see why someone would not want to live like that." The parents' strategy is to show that hope for rehabilitation has not been lost, but comparing then and now would make clear just how long the road to recovery would be.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

In a Word: D'oh!

One would certainly hope that those involved in the education of children would be at least a little bit more learned than their students. The ones that I know personally certainly are. Somehow, I don't think that applies to the brain surgeons responsible for error-filled math guides for New York school children.

Several answers in the guide were wrong. There were also sloppy diagrams and improper notation of exponents. There were at least 18 errors in the guide, and grammar and spelling issues proved just as problematic as the math. For example, the word "fourth" was misspelled on the cover of the 4th-grade manual.

School officials blamed the mistakes on an ineffective fact-checker.

Yeah, the fact-checker deserves to get it in the neck, but so do the people who prepared the guide in the first place. Please, is it too much to ask that they at least get the cover right?

Link via Powerline.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Yeah, What She Said

More often than not, I am willing to defer to the judgement of someone with more experience in a given field than I. Dahlia Lithwick has very succinctly laid out the Republican disavowal of Michael Schiavo's marriage right to speak for Terri. I did my best to write the same things earlier, its simply nice to see the way a professional would put it. Andrew Sullivan (from whom I found this article) points out how civil marriage is sacred only when Theocons (his term) find it expedient.

This afternoon I was listen to Sean Hannity interview former judge Roy Moore, the Alabama(?) Supreme Court Chief Justice ousted for refusing a federal court order about his Ten Commandments display, when the point was made by someone about how absurd it is that one person should have the power of life or death over Terri. It is not just anyone, it is her husband. They tried to make the point that someone who got a quickie Vegas marriage would be hostage to their recently met spouse's will in this type of situation. Well, yes, they would. That is part of the responsibility one takes in getting married, wisely or not. Granted, Michael is hardly the most sterling example of a husband. If we were all to forget about Michael other than he is Terri's husband, I still don't believe that the religious right would be making any less noise.

I heard on another, locally hosted radio show (Al Rantel for those in the KABC area), in an interview with Ann Coulter, that feminists are absent from the discussion because they are on the horns of a dilemna. If they speak up for Terri's wishes, then they would be complicit in aiding a ne'er-do-well husband. If they join the fight for her life, then they have to admit to pushing back the definition of life to weaker states, thereby threatening their pro-choice rhetoric.

I think that right-to-life conservatives find themselves in a similar bind. If they do not fight to keep her alive at all costs, then they would be weakened by acknowledging a not-quite-alive state as being inferior to totally alive, thereby weaking their anti-abortion position.

So, for them, life above all else is the mantra. All else, including the definition of marriage, be damned.

By the way, for the religiously minded, Andrew Sullivan also links to an article by a Catholic theologian who calls to task the "life always better" position. Just something else to think about.

Science + Politics = Nonsense

The Instapundit has put together an impressive compendium of articles regarding the science of the Terri Schiavo case. I use the term "science" here reservedly. Science is the process of finding out the truth, while what we have here is a bunch of people using selective facts to justify their positions. I think that is referred to as sophistry, but it doesn't quite seem to fit. Case in point of sophistry is the email Prof. Reynolds received from a former nurse:

UPDATE: Reader Jean Tuttle emails: "Mr. Reynolds, I worked as a nurse in ICUs and ERs. I have no idea what kind of brain damage Mrs. Schiavo has ,but I find it hard to believe her EEG is flat.The patients I saw with flat EEGs couldn't breathe on their own, couldn't move or make any sound. As I said before I don't have any idea the amount of brain damage Mrs. Schiavo has, but I would bet the EEG isn"t flat. I think there is so much disinformation coming out of both sides of this ,that it is impossible to know what the facts are."

This strikes me like an English major making a big point in ridiculing someone's grammar. An EEG uses several leads, recording the readings in a polygraphic form. The multiple lines of output allow for the simultaneous analysis of different structures of the brain. While obviously Terri's EEG would not be completely flat as the brain stem would still generate waves as it regulated heart rate and respiration, I think that most people would be satisfied to say that Terri's EEG is flat when it comes to the important structures that made Terri, Terri.

Getting back to the Instapundit compendium, the first article the professor links to is a statement from the American Council on Science and Health.
While the organization tried to stay out of the debate, it felt it necessary to refute several points made by scientists claiming that Terri might just recover:

Yesterday, there was another public challenge to Ms. Schiavo's well-established diagnosis: Florida governor Jeb Bush announced that a "very renowned neurologist," Dr. William Cheshire, had concluded that Terri had been misdiagnosed and that she was really only in a state of "minimal consciousness" rather than a persistent vegetative state. He used this "new diagnosis" to argue that "this new information raises serious concerns and warrants immediate action."

As it turns out, Dr. Cheshire is not "renowned" as a neurologist -- his limited publications focus on areas including headache pain and his opposition to stem cell research. Dr. Cheshire never conducted a physical examination of Ms. Schiavo, nor did he do neurological tests. Dr. Cheshire is director of biotech ethics at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a nonprofit group founded by "more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists." Everyone is free to be guided by a personal agenda -- and it is clear that Dr. Cheshire has his.

Interesting coming from the side that claims that Terri's due process has been violated by not performing every test under the sun, to have a doctor make a diagnosis without actually dealing with the patient. Ideology is not information, one can not make scientific statements upon it.

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, author of the piece, pulls no punches in the final paragraph:

Let's call tripe when tripe is served. All of us are entitled to our own personal views on the Schiavo case, what her fate should be, and who should make decisions for her. But all of us should be united in rejecting politically-generated junk science.

Tripe marinated in snake oil.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Count for 2005 is Now: 30

Yep, I had to go twenty more before I cooled down enough to write this post. The source of the heat was hearing Ann Coulter on the radio, and then reading her column, Starved for Justice, regarding the Terri Schiavo case. The main thrust of her first few paragraphs seems to be that liberals are being hypocritical by not allowing conservatives to be hypocritical. She is advocating that someone in another branch of government should stand up and disregard the rulings of the courts when the moral case, such as now, is strong enough. Her examples are cases where Democratic executives used executive powers to circumvent court rulings, and, by golly, Republicans should be allowed to as well.

The problem with her argument is that the hot water that the courts are in, and deservedly so, is because they were applying their own moral standards to the cases before them and got creative with their powers. Hence we have "legislation from the bench", and it really sucks when the morality applied isn't your own.

Complicated issues such as this one force those who make a decision about it to be very forthright in the priorities of their beliefs. What is the most important principle that drives you? Life? Equality? Liberty? For me, it is the rule of law, because in my mind, nothing else is secure without it. Ann's position of life above all else (although I believe that justice might come above that given what I assume to be her pro-death penalty stance, correct me if I am wrong) is justifying the act of "jurisprudence from congress" where Congress is empowered to keep pushing the issue until it gets a decision it wants. Imagining a reversed situation, liberal Congress interceding with a ruling of a conservative court, makes me think that Ann's position does not survive the "other foot" test.

So, in summation, curse you, Congress, for breaking the separation of powers, Curse you, Judiciary, for setting that precedent.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Brought to You by the Letters A and K, and the Number 47

The elections in Iraq were the first sign that people there were willing to take a risk for democracy in their country. That some are willing to actively defend their neighborhoods is even better. Not even the author's references to the sectarian position Dhia and his family implicitly have as Shiites, implying that this could turn into the Shiite-Sunni civil war many have been predicting, can diminish the positive essence of this event.

Good thing that the family had some AK-47's around so that this stand would be more likely successful. I understand that many homes have them these days. Some see that as a sad commentary on the state of life in Iraq, but the insurgency has made the "not need it" part of the adage less likely and the cost of "and not have it" very high indeed.

Link via Instapundit.

Monday, March 21, 2005

And Now, For Synthesis

Jinnderella of Hot Needle of Inquiry brings yet more thoughts to the table in Terri Schiavo's New Tenant. It has occurred to me to combine the thoughts regarding Terri's identity and Michael's marriage rights.

Is the person who chose to grant the rights over herself who married Michael still the one in the body he seeks to enact Terri's wishes upon? The CAT scan here shows massive damage, and I think people have seen enough of these through news reports and Discovery Channel specials on the brain to recognize that something is way beyond wrong here.

With the idea that Terri's wishes as to the end of her life might be rendered moot with the death of her personality, is it not reasonable to question whether any of her decisions apply to whatever diminished persona currently resides within her brain. The new angle is whether her choice to choose Michael as her husband and empowered to speak for her is still applicable. The argument might be extended to her parents, but they have precedent in that they had responsibility for her when she was last in an infantile state.

On a side note, comments on Jinderella's post ask the age-old question of the unity of the soul as the personality changes. My thought on that is that the soul would be the continuity of the personality. Indeed, the concept of the soul is that the personality, or some other vestige of the person, continues on even after death. The more I look on this case, the more I think that a soul can leave the body without the body getting the message that it should be dead.

Soul or no, the only thing I firmly believe in this case is that Terri, and the continuity/soul that was her, is gone, beyond even saying that she has been changed by the damage. I do not believe that there is anything left in that brain that can think of "I".

Imminent Party Fracture/Definition of Marriage

I don't want to be writing repeated about the Terri Schiavo case, but it touches on so many philosophical points that I just feel the need to comment. (Even after Blogspot decided to shut down and drop the first draft into oblivion.)

I thought that abortion would be the issue that would sound the death knell for the alliance between social conservatives and libertarians. Chalk me up about being wrong there. The Terri Schiavo case, and the Congress's and President Bush's responses to it, should be deeply troubling to anyone who truly wants to maintain some semblence of state's rights.

Prof. Rick Hill, quoted in whole by Prof. Volokh, has a very good analysis on the ways that the actions taken by Republicans are contrary to both the Constitution and conservative principles. I am not going to presume to speak on the issues of law, I'll let the article speak for itself. I would just like to point out another area where yesterday's legislation makes the words of Republicans ring hollow.

In my mind, the definition of marriage is a couple granting and receiving the rights to act for one another when the other is unable to do so, among other things. While Michael Schiavo is far from the poster child for good husbanding, he is still Terri's husband, and therefore has the right to speak for her. That can suck, and especially in this case, but if anyone can attempt to overrule a spouse merely when the spouse is making an unpopular decision, then any decision made by a spouse can be questioned. In what way is this defending marriage? It would seem to me that this is further weakening the institution, and doing so far more than allowing same sex couples to grant those rights to one another.

A Caveat for Our Times

Looking back at the last post, I realized that the last line about re-thinking my "no heroic measures" instructions would be sufficient to completely nullify any effort I have made to notify my friends and family of my wishes. I don't have any formal written instructions signed and notarized and what-not, only my verbal communications to them. The post expressed doubt, and with doubt in written form, therefore it would be enough to allow someone to say that I might have changed my mind, and therefore, they ought to err on the side of caution and keep me "alive".

So, for the record, if I am in a situation where either my body is rendered unable to function beyond circulation and respiration, or my mind becomes irrecoverable due to cerebral trauma, then I desire no articial means be used to prolong my life.

I'll let the appropriate people know if that changes. In writing.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Self After Brain Damage

A very interesting discussion is taking place over at Hot Needle of Inquiry regarding the Terri Schiavo case. She wrote of a friend of hers who suffered major head trauma and was comatose for eight months. When he awoke, he was no longer the person she remembered.

And then one day he woke up. But he wasn't my friend anymore. He couldn't learn. He has had a terrible sad life for the last ten years. College being out of the question, he enrolled in the Army. Dishonorable discharge. Since then he's been a heroin addict, a "jesus freak" (sorry, I don't know what else to call it), a male nurse, in-and-out of jail, a janitor, and always, a drunk. He broke his parents' hearts a thousand times. There is nothing left of the bright boy so full of promise, that I once knew. My friend isn't in there. Someone else is the tenant. It is almost like demonic possession.

We agree that that which was Terri Schiavo before the heart stoppage, is gone. Even if she recovers, she will have to learn all over again, but never what she was before.

I left a comment stating the following:

As I was writing a comment, a thought hit me that erased what I was going to say before. I thought that I would not want to go on living if I ended up in Terri's position. But I would not be I if my brain became that damaged. I would be gone, and something similar yet diminished would remain. It happens every minute of our lives, the old "I" is replaced by something similar, yet hopefully enhanced. Do I have the right to say that the diminished other does not deserve a chance at improvement, especially after I am gone?

When is a person dead? The biological questions are murky as the Schiavo case itself points out. What I am wondering is when is identity lost? Spiritually, one can say that the soul leaves the body on death. Maybe that should be turned around to say that a person is dead when the soul leaves the body, whether the body stops functioning or not.

Materialistically, I think that what we are are the patterns of energy flows through our brains. The patterns change over time with new stimuli, yet the memory of previous states creates the sense of a continuing identity. Continuity is the key, so long as the present mind-state is reasonably continuous, we can say that the identity, and mind, is still alive.

Douglas Hofstadter wrote about this concept in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. He uses a form of this idea in one the alternating allegorical chapters. The story describes conversations between Mr. Anteater and Aunt Hillary. Aunt Hillary is a colony of ants that Mr. Anteater converses with by reading the paths the ants make and the patterns of workers, soldiers and drones. The ants have no concept of Aunt Hillary, nor do the ants have any more identity to Aunt Hillary than neurons do in our brains. Mr. Anteater had another ant colony friend who had ceased to exist when a sudden rainstorm completely discombobulated his ant-patterns. When the ants created a new pattern, the old friend was gone, even though most of the ants survived, and Aunt Hillary remained, .

Now, I am an organ donor, based on the "I'm dead, and therefore not using them" argument. But if I suffer head trauma to the point where I might "survive" but have limited function pending a long shot at recovery, it would be difficult to say if "I" survived. The key, once again, is continuity. If the patterns that make me me are gone, then I am gone, despite what my vital signs might say. The newly forming person might recover some memories, but the way he would deal with them would be different. In a way, it would be like an actor stepping into my skin and trying to play me.

The issue is whether my wishes from before the accident would apply to this new person. Essentially, my body would still donate its organs, but someone else is getting the whole shebang. I am starting to think that he deserves his shot, and that my "no heroic measures" position might change.

Jumping into Hyperbole

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube has once again been removed, and you can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of people are using this for political grandstanding. I would have to iimagine that it is the Congressional Republicans who are leading the charge as in line with the wishes of their pro-life constituents.

Now for the hyperbole. If any issue of the day were to create a Constitutional crisis, this would be the one. The judge in the case is taking a clear line that is not at all to the liking of the majority in congress. I see the potential for someone, quite possibly fed up judicial activism, to... and here I run out of steam. If it were the president who was pushing to keep her alive, then there is the potential for law enforcement to become involved. That almost happened with Jeb Bush, governor of Florida, who rushed through a bill to make disconnecting the feeding tube illegal, only to have it struck down by the Florida high court. The next few days are going to be interesting to see how well the concept of separation of powers holds up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Composites in Space

Update Below

For the most part, I agree with Rand Simberg regarding the obsolescence of the materials technology on the Space Shuttle. I also believe that he is on the right track with the parallels he draws in respect to polymer/carbon fiber composites used on Airbuses. There are a few other considerations that I think that he missed, however.

First is the characterization that space is a "benign environment" with respect to structural stress. That is true within that frame, but reusability will have to account for the radiation that will impinge on the atomic bonds of the epoxy resin matrix. As a general rule, polymers do not handle ultra-violet and higher energy radiation very well; think about your vinyl dashboard after several years. Under prolonged exposure, polymers tend to become brittle. In materials terms its fracture toughness, the key parameter in fatigue resistance, decreases with exposure. Potentially, a spacecraft could be coming down with parts substantially more prone to fatigue than when it went up. This will put an absolute upper limit on reusability.

From the quoted article, it is foolish to think that one could find internal voids through external examination. Kind of like surgeons' knocks on internists, that internists try to guess what is going on inside the patient, only that polymers can't say precisely where they feel gassy. If there is an occurrence of voids of vapor appearing inside the matrix, it could be one of two things, neither of which would be good for a spacecraft. One is that there are flaws in the lay-up process. Failure to properly lay down the laminates could leave air pockets like bubbles under linoleum. Second is that there is gas being released from the matrix that is coalescing into bubbles, a process known as out-gassing.

Both of these processes yield flaws that create internal stresses in the composite. The important thing to remember is that the stress would be partly determined by pressure, so you can see that traveling through vacuum could have a serious downside.

I would be interested in looking at research being done in ceramic-matrix composites. While not as light as polymers, the chemical inertness of ceramics would give it longer life. The use of metallic whiskers in the ceramic would check the growth of cracks and provide improved tensile properties. I'm sure that there are downsides to these materials, but I'll leave that to another know it all.

Link via Instapundit.

Update: I spent a little more time thinking about this, and I want to cover a couple of points, on pro-composite and one anti-composite.

Pro-composite: My thought regarding trapped gasses in composites during lay-up. Vacuum molding, where the plies of composite are pressed together after layup by a vacuum between the mold and a membrane, would take care of any trapped air beteen the plies. While the cured state would be more resistant to the development of gas pockets due to its stiffness, it still does not completely answer the issue of out-gassed vapors.

Anti-composite: In an orbitting vehicle, the temperature differences between day and night would be huge. Polymer matrices, by and large, have considerable coefficients of thermal expansion. This is a differnce with carbon fibers, and a difference would between the two would be bad. While the carbon fibers would prevent excess expansion of the resin matrix at first, over time (and hence, a reusability issue) the matrix would break its bond with the fibers. With no connection to particular fibers, those fibers might as well not be there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Revolution Will Be Marketed

Here are a few interesting thoughts regarding pro-freedom demonstations and the general hotness of the women attending them. Gaijinbiker makes several good observations about how the freedom to look good can be either a tipping point for or an idicator of the freedom in a society.

I certainly don't think that having good looking women at a demonstration is a bad thing. I just wonder how many guys are there to rally for freedom or to rally for freedom with an eye on impressing a hot babe. Either way, from where I sit, there certainly seemed more sincerity on monday than there was in the pro-Syria rally last week.

On a related note, how many baby boys named Viktor do you think will be born toward the end of August?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Worth Getting Coffee For

Brain Micklethwait of Samizdata starts this post with a warning that it is of far longer length than his usual. His point is very much worth the long read, regarding how the internet is aiding those in power get across the intent of their administrations without the filter of the media displacing the ideas with the scandal du jour. I highly recommend reading all of it. One commenter uses the neologism "disintermediation", being able to get information without the middle man. The biggest benefit is that those who are of the minority who want the meat of the story can finally get it without the opinion of the writer towards both the subject and the readership.

The internet: cutting out the middle man and passing the information on to you.

Democratic Counter-play

Austin Bay writes about how the Democratic Party can regain a position of political relevance once again. The key is to acknowledge reality and act on the older, Harry S. Truman and Andrew Jackson and JFK, mode of Democratic foreign policy. The best, and most realistic, means of neutralizing the Republican's foreign policy advantage is to concede that it is correct, and then to make small-scale changes, such as what rewards those who help us can expect.

From there, they can take the center on fiscal policy. Let's face it, Compassionate Conservatism has been anything but conservative. What that rhetoric did do was to cut to the center and take the edge off of the cold-hearted Republican meme. In making no allowances for the slow-down in the economy, the government finds itself with a huge deficit. I don't blame Bush for the disappearance of the surplus, that had entirely been based on the idea that the economy would continue growing at the same rate over the next ten years. The intervening events have shown who foolish those types of predictions can be.

One point where I do not agree with Austin is that Hillary Clinton would be too divisive to make a viable candidate. While incumbency has its advantages, the divisiveness of George W. Bush canceled that out and then some, and yet he got re-elected. In many minds, Hillary would be running for re-election herself, all the moreso if the message gets out that former-President Clinton would have a more than passive role. Anyone who would feel they have lost ground since Clinton would be a sure thing. It would be the ultimate decision of "are you better off now than four (or eight) years ago?"

Link Via Instapundit

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Another Domino Theory

Role-playing games have been a long time hobby of mine. My friends and I have been at it long enough to be well beyond the hach-and-slash-might-as-well-be-a-computer-game stage and are into the acting and plot phase.

Recently we have been describing our characters with a domino analogy that sees characters in one of three ways:

1. Domino nudgers
2. Domino pushers
3. Dominoes

The dominoes are the people who simply remain passive with respect to events outside of their immediate lives. One day they might look up to see events suddenly barreling down on them and wonder what happened.

Domino nudgers are the plotters who arrange the dominoes so that they fall in the right way. These are the really clever folk who spend a great deal of time arranging for events.

Domino pushers are the ones who get events rolling by risking the irreversible actions and starting the chain reaction. Once the push happens, no one can fully control the result, and the pusher can only proceed with a best guess as to the results.

Looking beyond mere games, I've come to realize that George W. Bush is the first president since Reagan to be a pusher. That does not sit well with a lot of people. They preferred the constant nudge and counter-nudge that had passed for peace for the past twenty years, just like many preferred the nudge and counter-nudge of the Cold War as opposed to Reagan's push that ultimately cleared the board.

John Kerry promised to be another nudger. The problem with nudgers is that it allows someone else to make the first push, and that leaves even less control for the opposing nudgers. One might argue that the first pusher was bin Ladin and 9-11. Afganistan was the US falling as the next domino in the chain.

Iraq, on the other hand, was a different push in another direction. Pro-active rather than reactive. So far, I'm liking the results in net total. Now that the chain is falling, a few nudges here and there will have greater effects. OK, Sec State Rice, get out there and direct the flow.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Does He Still Feel Like a Winner?

Jack Whittaker, the winner of the largest lottery jackpot in history, is being sued by the father of a young man who died of a drug overdose in Whittaker's home. While I think that the case should be thrown out of court due to the fact that the young man was 18 and that he chose to do the drugs. It is clear to me that there is a lawyer behind this who sees the ready access to some very deep pockets.

The lawsuit, at least on the part of the lawyer who gives lawyers a bad name, does not strike me as being all that different than the "rash of break-ins" that Whittaker has faced. The drunk driving arrests are his responsibility, but it is clear that he is being targetted because his money is quite famous.

I only play (read: waste money on) the lottery when the jackpot gets up to around $40 million. Perhaps I should also consider just how much more money could be the threshold of wrecking my life. Perhaps, as a service to my fellow man, I should conduct an experiment, what is the point of diminishing returns for vulgar amounts of wealth? Anyone who would care to donate to the experiment can contact me at the e-mail address above.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mom!

If you are reading this one your birthday, dear Mother, please remember two things:

1. Love always
2. You are in Las Vegas. Stop reading this and get on with Tom Jones and the nickel slots, for crissakes. They are the nickel slots, right? I heard that the coins get smaller as the player gets older. Now that you are 60, you should have a machine reserved with those little handy-wipes to get rid of the nickel crud.

Just a reminder, I'll still be visiting this weekend, so you don't have to come all the way to Irvine to kick my ass.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Under-Reported Materials

The field of advanced materials is very near and dear to my heart. I have a degree in Materials Science and Engineering, and work as a metallurgist in a materials testing lab. I like to say that while aerospace and structural engineers push the envelope, it is materials engineers who really make the envelope bigger.

With some truly stunning pictures, Michael Jennings of illustrates a magnificent case in point, the Millau Viaduct in the south of France. The scale of the project is incredible, yet it was made all the more possible by the oldest science to work on the atomic scale, the science of metals.

Picture in your mind the image of the blacksmith. By working the bellows and judging by the glow of the metal (a pretty decent gauge of the metal's temperature) he strikes the metal to shape and quenches the metal in oil or water, thereby freezing it in place. The practice of metallurgy in no different today than it was in years past. Control of the content lets us name new alloys, be they of steel, aluminum, or titanium. That is only the first part of the process, however. The means by which the metals are formed, heated and cooled can change everything about an alloy. Some forms provide high strength while others are ductile enough to resist fatigue very well.

Not to forget the basics, concrete is still a wonderful material. There is nothing that can stand the test of ages while bearing huge compressive loads. Man made stone is still stone.

With the palatte of materials to choose from, an engineering project can truly be a work of art. Selection of wires for their tensile strength, platform steel for strength vs. weight, and tower steel for stiffness come together like colors in a painting. Finally comes the one attribute they all need to share, environmental resistance. Shrugging off corrosion in the seasonal weather of the region will make it so this bridge can last the years for future generations to marvel.

Hats off to Eifel Construction, they have put together another great one.

Coffee, Tea, or a Complete Waste of Time?

There has always been a long running debate as the best way to make a cup of coffee, or tea for the pansies among us. Add some scientific rigor and you have some really weird ideas. I do happen to like the idea of taking your coffee into the shower with you. I would modify that plan, using a travel mug to minimize the dillution while sacrificing the auto-cleaning aspect.

So here are my prefered methods of making/taking coffee.

3. Artificial sweetener. Sugar scum may have been fun after a bowl of corn flakes, but not for my coffee, thank you.

2. Add the sweetener and milk/non-dairy creamer to the cup first. This way the turbulence of the pour stirs the additions for you. Very useful when the spoon by the coffee maker is washed once every geologic epoch.

And my favorite way to take my coffee:

1. Intraveinously. I might reconsider this one when they start selling caffeine patches.

Via Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Captialists Just Can't Win

With the news of ever-rising gas prices, I'm waiting for the inevitable call for Congressional investigations. You know, the ones to show that gas companies are in cahoots to keep prices high and gouge the consumer for every last cent. Obviously, competition would be a good thing.

Unless it is a bad thing, that is. What is the biggest knock against Wal-Mart? Primarily is that it out competes local stores for the dollars of their shoppers. So, therefore, competition becomes a bad thing. And thus it follows that competition is both good and bad, and that the conundrum can only be solved by those who yell the loudest.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Infection By Meme

The Instapundit tells of the point that some readers are making regarding the Italian hostage/reporter claiming she had been targetted by US forces as she was making a dash for freedom. I had the same idea, only the other way around: Giuliana Sgrena survived the incident, heard the Eason Jordan allegation, and, intentionally or no, recast her experience to fit that meme.

Once again, I think that this is a case of "America is evil, America has been accused, therefore the accusation is true", no matter how flimsy the evidence.

Update: On closer review, I spotted the following questions and answers from Ms. Sgrena's BBC interview:

Did the Americans continue to fire when your car had come to a halt?

Our car was destroyed. And then the driver got out and was shouting "we're Italian, we're Italian". So they came and they saw what happened. But I was badly injured so I can't explain exactly what happened after because I was waiting for 20 minutes on the road for a military car to bring me to the hospital.

I don't know if they knew what they were doing or not but it's a big responsibility so they have to respond to what happened because it's impossible to shoot a car on a road to the airport without giving any signal, any stop or any check.

Do you think it was deliberate?

I can't say it was deliberate because we can't say if there was a lack of information. But also a lack of information in this case is [their] responsibility because you are in a war field and you have the responsibility to pass immediately any information.

The information was given to the Italians to tell the Americans that we were on the road. Now, I can't say why they shot at us in this way but it's a very big responsibility and we ask for a response on what happened. emphasis mine.

The way the exchange is written, it would seem that Ms. Sgrena is under the belief that it was the responsibility for the US forces in the area to know that she was not a hostile, as opposed to the Italian intelligence to notify the Americans. Her comment about how the area is a warzone and therefore the armed forces should be more careful of civilians is baffling. If this is her idea of how a warzone operates, what the hell was she doing in Iraq in the first place?

I cut her some slack due to the "[their]" I highlighted in the story. Somehow I think that there is something very strange about how a very non-specific term was inserted, presumably for something else. The actual reference of the "their" is particularly unclear, and a great deal of weight rests upon it. Is "their" refering to US or Italian responsibility for dissemenation of the information? I think an editor at the BBC has some explaining to do.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Go On, Heckle Him, I Dare Ya'

I can't imagine that I would be alone in wondering what MIke Tyson's singing voice would sound like. I mean, with a speaking voice that would make him a spokesman for the Boxers Against Low Blows, you'd think that he would be a natural for doing covers of The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Then again, he has proven himself to be hard on the ears in the past.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Some Discoveries Get No Respect

The discovery of anything truly new is always exciting. But come on, naming something a burper? I would think that the astronomer who first spotted it would like to have his/her name attached to something with a cooler sounding nomenclature. Perhaps there is a theory regarding an interstellar kegger that could explain this.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Road Map to Political Nowhere.

There is Ted Rall on the left, me, Ted W., in the middle, and now Ted Stevens on the right. The senator from Alaska is proposing that subscription cable channels be regulated in the same way broadcast stations are. Does he not understand that these are channels people have to opt into? No one is forcing them on anyone. For Senator Stevens, it is all about:

"... hav(ing) the same power to deal with cable as over-the-air" broadcasters.

"There has to be some standard of decency," he said.

Yes, there does need to be some standard, but it needs to be set at the level of the individual cable box, not by the government.

I had to nod my head in agreement with James Lileks when he wrote:

Then again, this is how you lose a majority, eventually: Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, wants to apply broadcast decency standards to cable.

I can see in the next couple of election cycles the Republicans getting dethroned in a massive way. The path should look familiar, the Democrats have blazed it for the last six years.

1. In 2008, tired of repeated losses, the Democratic Party will give the nomination to Hillary Clinton after her hard cut to the center (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

2. Meanwhile, social conservatives continue to push their legislate and regulate agenda upon the rest of the country. Any gains in Congress in 2006 will only hasten the course to the right.

3. Emboldened by their gains over the previous eight years, the social conservatives who make up the lion's share of active primary voters will refuse to nominate someone they deem not conservative enough in place of someone that will further enact their agenda.

4. Hillary survives the slings and arrows and the label "Liberal" to win the presidency by being the candidate closer to the mainstream, odd as that sounds. Alienated fiscal conservatives (who will stay home) and social liberals (casting votes for Hillary) will be the key to her victory.

5. The social conservatives by this point will have completely lost touch with the mainstream and lash out at Hillary as a pure symbol of America going down the tubes. Hating Hillary will become at least as vitriolic as Bashing Bush is today. A lack of positive values will hurt the Republicans in 2012 as, once again, conservative bona fides trump electability. The turnout of fiscal conservatives and soical liberals would determine the outcome. Most likely, Hillary wins a second term.

(This is starting to look like a sci-fi novel outline. Let's put this one on the list of cool ideas I intend to work on at some undefined future point.)

The moral of the lesson: just because you win a couple of elections in a row, don't go thinking that you are entitled to victory. Not only will that assure defeat, but it would make the defeat seem like theft.

The Ball is Rolling

I remember hearing about the Domino Effect that had hawks in the 50's and 60's up at nights. The idea was that communism would overtake one country, then use that country as a base to destabilize and take out the next one. I think we are starting to see that happening with democracy now, the difference being that the destabilization and overtaking seems to be happening from the inside. If other dominoes fall, there can be no argument that they resulted from the first hard shove given in Iraq.

So where does that leave the opposition party. Any attempt to minimize the happenings will divorce them from their self-given title of reality based. A method that actually has a good deal of merit to it is that a good outcome in the Middle East is far from assured. The best possible results will still require deft diplomatic handling. As I said before, American diplomacy has regained its teeth. Case in point: Sec. of State Rice only had to cancel a meeting with Egypt to get them to make plans for multi-party elections.

The ball is rolling, now to put a little english, or spin if you prefer, on it.

Link via Vodkapundit

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Sounds Like Evolution In Action

Let me get this straight: Kids are jumping across an eighty foot deep gap between parking garages and the parents of those so injured are saying it is the city that needs to do something about this? Michelle at A Small Victory lays into the parents for not looking out for their kids, as in knowing that they are out jumping from one multi-story building to another. I'm with her, the propensity to keep tabs on the safety of one's children is a survival trait for the species. The following generations would be better off without the negligence of the elders and the lack of sense of the younger.

One more thing: I notice that the title of the feature was called "Problem Solvers". Obviously the easiest way to solve this problem is nothing and allow gravity to run its course.

My Criminal Role-Models

Be on the lookout for a pair of British scofflaws coming to the United States. The best these guys could hope for in monetary terms would be a book deal detailing their trek across the country breaking stupid laws. I simply say thank god that I don't have the inclination to ride a bike in a swimming pool, although I do confess to swearing at a miniature golf course (I assume that is what crazy-golf is translated from the British).